- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 3, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — The answer to the question of whether Baltimore public schools are improving depends on whether the respondent is a Republican or a Democrat, in the world of Maryland politics.

The school system undoubtedly will be an important issue in the 2006 gubernatorial race if Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley becomes the Democratic opponent to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

Both parties say they have statistics that make their case about whether the school system is improving or deteriorating.

The mayor and his supporters cite significant gains in test scores among elementary school students. They also say that when the school system faced a financial disaster last year, the city stepped in with a loan and helped institute cost-cutting measures that have brought the budget under control.

But Mr. Ehrlich and fellow Republicans see the increase in the number of high schools on a failing-school watch list and a federal court ruling last month to put the state in charge of special education in Baltimore as evidence that Mr. O’Malley’s education policies are failing.

In the ruling, U.S. District Judge Marvin Garbis criticized city school officials for failing to meet the needs of special-education students and directed the Maryland State Department of Education to take on broader oversight of special education.

“We’re sentencing a second generation of kids to permanent poverty,” Mr. Ehrlich said Wednesday at a Board of Public Works meeting. He did not mention Mr. O’Malley by name, but Audra Miller, spokeswoman for the state Republican Party, did.

“O’Malley has decided to make education in the city a cornerstone of his campaign,” she said. “By doing that, it illustrates his failure as a leader, and the children are being deprived of the quality education.”

Mrs. Miller also said the recent announcement that three more high schools were added to the watch list of schools not making adequate progress — bringing the city total to 12 — is further evidence of the failure of Baltimore schools.

Mr. O’Malley, whose main opponent for the Democratic nomination will likely be Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, recently said that when he was elected mayor, fewer than half of the students in all grades tested proficient in reading and math. Now, more than 50 percent in the first five grades are proficient in reading, and more than 50 percent are proficient in math in grades one through four.

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